Author Archives: Jack Jeffrey

streetlights above a road at dusk
How Do Cities Maintain Their Streetlights?

For centuries, lamps have lit the streets of cities around the world. From gas to electricity, streetlights have lit the way for residents and kept them safe at night. Research shows that streetlights lower crimes at night by 39%.

These streetlights need maintenance to keep them shining through the night. Do you wonder how this is done? Keep reading to learn how cities maintain streetlights and what equipment they use!

The Use of Streetlights in Cities

Cities use different types of streetlights depending on the area and usage.

Streetlights maintain safety by reducing crime that could take place in low-light areas.

They also light roads, sidewalks, and parks which help reduce accidents and injuries. Good lighting improves visibility for drivers and cyclists on the road.

Streetlights are an important part of urban design. The key factors that define different streetlamps are scale, color, and luminance. The scale of the lamp post depends on where its placed and its usage. White-colored lights allow more visibility than yellow lights. The luminance in light may differ depending on the area and its intended use.

In recent years, LED bulbs have replaced HPS and HID lamps. LED streetlights consume twice less energy and last 2x longer than HPS and HID lamps. This helps with the issue of high consumption that a lot of streetlights have.

LED lights are also much more durable than incandescent lights. Especially in harsh environments, LED lights are break-resistant because of the materials they are made of, LED solar street lights have also been used in areas of direct sunlight. These solar lights are long-lasting, use little energy consumption, and are easy to maintain.

Maintaining Streetlights

Cities maintain streetlights through preventative maintenance and response repairs. Preventative maintenance involves re-lamping HPS lights every few years. When this happens, there needs to be traffic control and some road closures, if the lamps are in high traffic areas.

LED lamps do not need to be re-lamped. LED solar street lights may need some preventative maintenance as well. This includes cleaning the solar panels, trimming surrounding trees that may block the solar panels, and maintaining and/or replacing the battery.

City workers will respond to street light outage reports. When city workers respond to these reports, they often troubleshoot issues that could be causing an outage. This includes checking the power distribution system, replacing the photocell, and repairing or replacing a contactor.

In neighborhoods, cities often rely on the people who live in the area to report broken streetlights. Many lamp posts have a number tag on them that residents can use to report the specific lamp to city maintenance. City workers will also routinely inspect street lights on the major streets of a city and make any necessary repairs.

Equipment Used for Maintenance

When city workers go to repair or maintain streetlamps, they use bucket trucks to reach the tall lamp posts and fix the issue. A bucket truck is a work truck that uses an aerial lift to safely lift workers to heights that are too high for a latter. Workers not only use bucket trucks to replace bulbs but also to check to see that all circuits and wires are functioning.

For solar-powered streetlights, workers use bucket trucks to remove dust from the solar panels; trim surrounding trees that may be blocking sunlight from the panels; and clean up any snow, leaves, or animal droppings that may have fallen onto the panels.

If the solar street lamp has a battery, workers will also check to see if the battery needs to be replaced. If the batteries are high quality, they don’t need replacement.

Different types of bucket trucks can be used based on the needs of the utility workers. Custom Truck One Source offers bucket trucks that can reach a vertical height of 29 to 161 feet. Different bucket truck models include telescopic, articulating telescopic, over-center, non-over-center, insulated and non-insulated models. These different models offer different advantages depending on the needs of the work.

Light the Night

Streetlights are a necessity for city streets all around the world. They help ensure the safety and well-being of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. The use of bucket trucks helps utility workers maintain streetlights so that city residents have peace of mind in their area.

Different bucket trucks are necessary for maintaining streetlamps in different areas.

To learn more about the variety of bucket trucks Custom Truck One Source offers, get in touch with a member of their team today!

 

5G smart mobile telephone radio network antenna base station on the telecommunication mast radiating signal
Telecom Grants for Broadband & 5G Expansion

5G is the fifth generation of wireless communication standards, promising significantly faster download speeds and greater load capacity. Though virtualization of work was becoming more commonplace before 2020, during the recent pandemic, much more work successfully shifted to telecommuting. This has highlighted the importance and usefulness of better broadband and 5G communications wherever possible.

Governments Invest Heavily in Broadband and 5G Grants

There is a clear need in many countries for better and expanded communication to more isolated areas. This includes the vast landscape of the United States. These infrastructure expansions are also important for developing better retail and online shopping logistics. Both consumers and sellers have increased their involvement in online shopping. This depends on effective digital tracking and communications in isolated areas.

For these reasons and many others, governments have been investing heavily in 5G and broadband expansion. In the European Union, the Commission of Member States has identified 5G in particular as a crucial investment project. In July of 2020, they agreed on a financial package called NextGenerationEU that seeks to disperse over 750 billion Euros in grants and loans to member states. Over 312 billion Euros of this will be in the form of direct grants to providers.

The United States Government is doing the same. In January of 2020, before the COVID situation was considered urgent, the Federal Communications Commission of the U.S Government decided to create a subsidy program for $20.4 billion dollars in broadband network construction for the next decade.

Part of this subsidy will be for grants. The grant money will go to wireless operators, phone companies, electric cooperatives, and other telecom providers involved in broadband and 5G delivery. These funds are only part of the U.S Government’s broadband expansion program.

Specific Sources of Broadband Grant Funding

An extensive program-by-program update from the government in April of 2020 detailed a total of 57 different federal broadband investment programs managed by 14 different agencies that are disbursing billions of dollars in loans, material resources, subsidies, and, most importantly, grants. The FCC and Department of Agriculture through the ReConnect program are the largest sources of funding listed.

Among the investment programs listed in the still-active U.S Government update are multimillion dollar investments in fiber and cellular network expansion, grants for cellular expansion after disaster recovery, broadband expansion to agricultural regions, and broadband/5G expansion for telehealth improvements. Even agencies of the U.S government such as the Forest Service are funding broadband in certain contexts.

Other funding and grant sources for broadband and 5G expansion are available. You can find these as part of state government infrastructure budgets. One notable example of this is California, whose California Advanced Services Fund disburses hundreds of millions of dollars in telecommunications funding through the state Public Utility Commission for different broadband projects.

Broadband Installation Equipment 

There’s still much to consider if you’re a service provider seeking grant funding for broadband and 5G projects. For example, what are the equipment needs of your contracts? Perhaps your fleet needs a refresh in the form of new telecom equipment. Upgraded bucket trucks and cable placers can improve the safety and efficiency of this expansion work. Custom Truck will also be announcing a new telecom van soon. This unit is built for maximum functionality and safety, and unlike anything currently on the market.

Obtaining funds from one of the dozens of government grants may provide an opportunity to buy a vehicle. If outright purchases can’t be justified by the size of a grant, professional telecoms vehicle providers such as Custom Truck also offer rental options that could be an effective solution to help you join in the international 5G expansion.

 

Posi Plus cable placer, a piece of equipment used to implement 5g
What Types of Equipment Are Telecom Companies Using in the “Race For 5G?”

These days, everyone seems excited about the upgrade to their local 5G network. People involved in its expansion, however, are asking some serious questions. They include “How many customers need it?”, and “What equipment do I need?”.

Luckily, there is plenty of information out there for these people. This article will go over some of the information we currently have. Also, it should answer most questions others have about the process of expanding the network.

5G Today

With the introduction of the iPhone 12 and Pixel 5, people across the country are clamoring for 5G. Early-adopters have already made the switch and soon everybody else will follow.

Ignoring China’s attempts to leap forward with their first 6G satellite, 5G is the most advanced mobile network available. The 5G landscape is continuing to grow and does not yet even cover mainland U.S.A.

Still, the customer base must expand and, with it, the cable network. At present, many large cities are already connected to the network, but the suburbs and countryside are still spotty for coverage. Rural areas are vying for their piece of the pie, and cable companies are happy to provide.

Layer Cake

Over time the different providers have also expanded how they implement 5G. They are now using what they call a “Layer cake” approach. This uses different bands of 5G to send high, medium, and low-frequency messages to your device.

High-frequency communication is very data-intensive and perfect for speedy transfer. However, buildings and even windows easily block it. Lower-frequency data can reach further but transfers slower. This means many systems need implementation.

Early last year, some providers only had access to the low-frequency bands. Since then, customers are starting to see high-frequency bands due to infrastructure upgrades and mergers. These give them higher transfer rates across the country starting in major cities.

With customers using these high frequencies more, cable needs to no only be placed and activated, it also needs maintenance.

Tools for the Job

After an antenna gets approved by the community, it needs to go up. That, of course, requires the ability to raise a technician high enough to install it. Any company getting involved will need specialist equipment such as bucket trucks. These will help them get technicians to where they need to be, as well as cable placers for doing so on the move.

With the explosion of 5G across the country, companies have mobilized entire fleets of cable placers. This allows them to get the job done in a speedy and professional manner.

When installing the cables necessary to run a 5G antenna, some trucks have even been outfitted with specific equipment. This is capable of winching an entire reel higher so the individual at work can make use of it.

Reel Good Equipment

Still, 5G is potentially costing seven hundred and fifty billion to install worldwide over the next five years. Thus, it is important to ensure the process can be completed fast. It is not only that new cable requires installation, but companies must remove old cable as part of the process.

To assist with this, a recent development has revolutionized how fast companies can destroy and recycle cable. The Zeck Aluminum Separator (or ZAS) is a new piece of technology in the field built for this purpose. After reeling in an old cable, it can be wound through the ZAS where the machine separates steel and aluminum in the cable from one another. This allows the sale of both components without ruining their market value.

When it comes to the installation of cable, this is impossible to do by hand due to the immense weight of the metal. Instead, specialists use “Pullers” and “Tensioners” to do the heavy lifting.

Both of these use large reels to perform similar, albeit distinctly different tasks. Pullers are used to reel the cable from one location to another. This may be between poles, or even through underground pipes if necessary. Tensioners, however, ensure the cable is not slack during the process of affixing it to poles. After laying the cable, the tensioner can safely and slowly release the tension. The tensioner does this without danger to the equipment or technicians in control.

Both pullers and tensioners are precision pieces of equipment. Using them gives the technicians large degrees of control over the process. They are also sometimes combined into a single piece of equipment known as a “Puller-tensioner”.

Deeper Underground

Where extreme weather threatens the integrity of utilities, cables are instead placed underground. In these situations, technicians will perform all the same roles and need the same equipment with the addition of one thing: digging.

The technicians use high-pressure water from specialized trucks to dig large trenches and tunnels. This means laying the cable is a quick process. In addition, the trucks clear excess mud away to ensure the safety and comfort of all involved.

It may not be a clean job, but it beats re-laying miles of cable each year after tornado season.

5G Creeping Forward

5G continues to permeate our homes. As this continues we can expect data providers to compete with one another for the fastest networks.

For this, cable companies will continue to need purpose-built equipment. Not only to ensure the safety of its employees but for the swift installation of miles and miles of cable.

If you find yourself in this position, chances are you will need specific trucks and trailers at some point. Reach out to Custom Truck to see what they can do for you.

 

copper grounding wire encased in protective plastic
The Dangers of Stealing Copper From Electricity Poles

Historically speaking, copper has never been cheap. Flexibility and ability to conduct heat and electricity have always kept this metal in demand for a variety of applications.

When there is demand, prices go up. And when an expensive commodity like copper is part of installations on unguarded roadsides, theft may occur.

This has been the case with the inclusion of copper on electric poles in the United States, especially over the last 20 years. Below, we answer some common questions about copper wire theft.

# 1: Why do electricity poles have copper?

Electricity poles are usually 50 ft installations with several parts, such as power, phone and cable wires, lightning arrestors, transformers, etc. To see an interesting deconstruction of their many parts, click here.

At the bottom of these poles, there are copper `grounds’, which are protective pieces of equipment that direct electricity to earth.

So, if there was a problem with equipment on the pole, the copper grounds with attract the electricity electricity (because they are a conductive material), which would then safely pass to the earth.

# 2: What is scrap copper stolen from electricity poles used for?

You can melt down and recycle scrap copper over and over again. Used in a variety of applications, such as manufacturing computers, industrial machinery, and construction material, there is always a ready market for scrap copper wires and people who will pay a decent amount of money for it.

# 3: How is it stolen?

Typically, thieves will cut cables into manageable lengths of 2-6 feet using a bolt cutter, ax, or saw. They then remove the outer sheathing made of plastic, which frees up the cluster of copper wires encased inside.

# 4: Is it legal to buy stolen scrap copper?

Absolutely not. If the buyer is aware that the material was stolen, they may face legal consequences. Many states, in fact, require scrap dealers to keep stringent records of where their goods come from, and failure to be transparent can result in penalties.

# 5: Why is stealing copper from electricity poles dangerous?

Tampering with energized electrical equipment means there is always an extremely high risk of electrocution. Young people and small-time law breakers often commit this crime. They usually don’t understand how the system works and can end up seriously burned, injured, or even killed.

And the danger isn’t just to the thieves themselves. They leave behind unprotected, highly energized crime scenes that are risky for the public and utility workers as well after the copper wires have been cut away.

# 6: How does copper theft from electricity poles affect the public?

First of all, the theft increases repair and maintenance costs for utility companies. The higher cost passes down to consumers. Then there are service disruptions that occur because of it. Airport runways can shut down, traffic lights can stop functioning, and hospitals can experience outages. Service interruption can occur in your homes, too, and you can suddenly find yourself without basic services like internet.

# 7: How can you help utility companies fight this crime?

Copper thieves target not just electric poles but electric substations, construction sites, and storage yards. If you notice any suspicious activity, such as an open substation gate, open equipment, hanging wire, etc., report immediately on AEP’s (American Electric Power) hotline: 1-866-747-5845.

Your call could save lives.

 

Hole in yard with yellow plastic natural gas utility lines buried in ground, shovel and with natural gas warning flag
How to Protect Buried Utility Lines When Digging on Your Property

So, you want to update your property? Add some new landscaping, install a fence or mailbox, or build a deck? Home ownership gives you every right to redo your outdoor space as you please. However, before you start such a project, it’s important to consider your own safety and that of your neighborhood by checking for utility lines.

 

Buried utility lines run underneath your property. These can be electrical service wires, cable TV or internet service wires, telephone service wires, sewer and water mains, and natural gas supply pipes. Knowing where they are will help you avoid the disastrous mistake of making accidental contact while digging.

 

Few homeowners know the exact layout of utility lines under their property or what updates may have been made in the years past. The depth of buried utilities is not uniform either and may differ from area to area. In colder regions, for example, sewer and water lines can be buried deep below the winter frost line. In warmer parts of the country, they may be closer to the surface.

 

With millions of miles of underground utility lines running beneath residential yards with no up-to-date blueprint of their exact locations, the need for extreme caution before starting a digging project is clear.

 

So how will you go about it? Here’s a quick road map:

#1: Call 811

Call in the experts! 811 is the nationwide number that will connect you to the proper organization in your state. Once the call is made, the response crew has 48 hours to come by and mark your underground with a color code:

 

  • Red: indicates electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting ,cables.
  • Yellow: indicates gas, oil, steam, petroleum, or gaseous materials.
  • Orange: indicates communication, alarm or signal lines, cables or conduit.
  • Blue: indicates potable (drinking) water.
  • Purple: indicates reclaimed water, irrigation, and slurry lines.
  • Green: indicates sewers and drain lines.
  • Pink: indicates temporary survey markings.
  • White: indicates proposed excavation site before the locating services markings.

 

Besides this free 811 service, there are also private location services who will inspect non-public utility lines that were installed by private companies on your property for a fee.

#2: Dig Responsibly

• While exposing utility lines to verify their precise location, be very careful about the sensitive “tolerance” zone. This is the area equal to the width of the facility itself, plus 18 inches on either side.

 

• Some amount of hand-digging will be necessary. In some states, hand-digging is the rule in the initial phase before switching to power digging when safety inspections have been met. In others, it is hand-digging all the way in the tolerance zone, or some other non-intrusive method that does not involve power.

 

• Don’t use a pointed spade or a pickax. Loosen the soil with a blunt shovel, and then switch to a regular one to dispose of the debris.

 

• Avoid digging straight down, as the chances of hitting something unexpected is a lot higher that way. Work at an angle instead.

 

• For large projects, find out if vacuum excavation (VAC) equipment may be used in lieu of hand-digging.

#3: Important Things to Remember

• Water-soluble paint is used to draw markings on the grass or ground surface by the 811 crew, which means they run the risk of being washed away in the event of a heavy rain. For this reason, markings are considered valid for only 30 days. If your digging project is delayed beyond these 30 days, the markings have to be re-done.

 

• 811 locating services will not mark your irrigation pipes or any lines (like a gas line to a grill) that you or a previous owner may have installed. Hire a private locating service to take care of this for you.

 

• Never attempt to move a utility line in any way. Such a job can only be undertaken by qualified specialists.

 

• If you suspect you may have hit a utility line by accident, stop work and call for help immediately.

 

•  Surveys done by CGA (Common Ground Alliance) have found in the past that as many as 51% of homeowners in the United States put themselves and their community at risk by not calling 811 before launching a DIY digging project. Don’t be one of them. Take this responsibility you owe to yourself and others seriously, and let the 811 locating services do their job of marking underground utilities first.

 

Surely, waiting 48 hours to do it right is a small price to pay.

 

representation of an electrical smart grid as dots and lines connecting transmissions poles to a city at night
The Smart Grid: Changing the Way We Consume Electricity

When America’s electrical grid was built more than a century ago, it was a simple. It was unidirectional system of power transmission and distribution. Demand for electricity was low. Homes needed only enough energy to turn on lights and perhaps an oven and a radio.

Compare that to the U.S. electric grid of today: 9,200-plus electric generating units with more than 1 million megawatts of generating capacity and connected by 600,000 miles of transmission lines. Even that’s not proving to be enough.

American households, not to mention offices and businesses, now own an average of 11 connected devices. This means utility companies need an even more sophisticated infrastructure to provide reliable electricity.

The solution? A smart grid.

Community Benefits

Using two-way communication technologies, computers, and automation, a smart grid enables consumers to manage their own energy consumption with easy access to their own data. Utility companies benefit as well, as they’re better equipped to handle rising energy demands, reduce peak loads, increase integration of renewables, and lower operational costs.

Electricity is the thread that ties people to businesses, health services, security services, etc. A disruption in power supply can therefore have a compounding effect. It can even bring a community heavily dependent on the Internet of Things (IoT) to a complete standstill.

Thanks to its two-way interactive attributes, a smart grid system will trigger automatic rerouting when outages occur. This will minimize such disruptions. The smart grid technology will pinpoint the outages before they can spiral into a broader blackout period. Recovery will also happen quickly, and power supply can be strategically assigned, if necessary, to important services like hospitals and police stations.

A smart grid can also commandeer customer-owned power generators to produce power as a `distributed generation’ resource when utilities are failing to do so and keep emergency operations supplied with electricity.

Consumer Benefits

From the consumers’ point of view, a smart grid will function as a tell-all, vis-à-vis their energy usage. They won’t have to wait to receive a monthly bill in the mail to find out how much energy has been used in a household or a business property. Mechanisms like `smart meters’ will keep them informed of real-time pricing. This way they can save money by using less power when electricity is more expensive.

Indeed, the smart grid will change how we live, work, play, learn, and entertain ourselves. But the changeover process will be a gradual one. Coordination will be key between strategic research and development and demonstration (RD&D) involving both private and public sectors. Building a smart grid involves many pieces– from controls and power lines to technology and equipment. As each evolves over the next decade, so will this revolutionary idea that will forever change how we consume electricity in our day-to-day lives.

 

electric distribution poles in front of blue sky
Electric Distribution Poles: What Do They Do?

One of the most important lifelines of modern civilization is electricity. However, we are so used to seeing electric distribution poles along streets and roads, we rarely stop to look at them closely or wonder what they do to supply power to our homes and offices. Electric distribution poles can be an extremely interesting study. The 50-ft tall wooden structures with masses of running wires aren’t necessarily aesthetically pleasing, but once you learn the role they play in our lives, you can’t help but be grateful for their presence.

In this article (courtesy: American Electric Power), we will deconstruct electric distribution poles, from top to bottom, in as simplified a way as we can. Check out the accompanying image for visual reference as you read.

 

Electric pole parts breakdown

# 1: Primary Wires

At the top of the pole are the primary or main wires. These wires connect to nearby substations and can carry between 7,200 – 34,500 volts, with 12,000 volts being most common.

There is only one wire if the electricity is going to a residence. For businesses and offices there are three wires, as these institutions consume more energy.

A structure called a cross-arm supports the primary wires. Insulators hold these in place and keep both the cross-arm and the pole from becoming energized by the wires.

# 2: Lightning  Arrestors

Below the primary wires are cylindrical objects known as lightning arrestors. These protect the electric pole and all its parts from damage caused by lightning.

# 3: Cut-Outs

At about the same level as a lightening arrestor is the cut-out.  A cut-out is similar to a fuse in your home. It protects the pole and its equipment from too much electricity. If any object, be it a tree limb or a bird or a squirrel, comes in contact with a wire, the cut-out drops open to visually indicate that there is a problem with that section of the line. If you ever see a cut-out open, call your power company.

# 4: Transformers

Below the cutout is a piece of equipment that looks like a can called a transformer. It takes the electricity from the wires at the top of the pole and steps it down to the lower levels needed for a home or a business.

# 5: Neutral Wires

Under the transformer is a copper wire called the neutral wire. This does not mean that it is safe to touch! The neutral wire is a return line that goes back to the substation and helps to balance the amount of electricity out on the system. Without this neutral wire, our appliances could get too much or too little electricity, which would cause damage.

# 6: Secondary Wires

Below the neutral wire is the secondary wire. After the electricity passes through the pole-mounted transformer, it is carried in the secondary wire at the lower level of 120 or 240 volts.

# 7: Phone and Cable Wires

Under the secondary wires are the phone and cable wires. They are generally the lowest wires on the pole. Phone and cable wires are still not safe to touch because they could become energized if, for example, a fallen power line comes in contact with them.

# 8: Copper Grounds

At the bottom of the pole are copper grounds. These are protective pieces of equipment and direct electricity into the earth.

If there were ever to be any problems with equipment on the pole, the electricity would be attracted to the copper grounds, because they are a conductive material which would pass it to the earth.

# 9: Guy Wires

Lastly, on some poles, depending on location, there could be another larger wire running off at an angle into the ground called a guy wire. These are used to support the poles. To protect people and animals walking past guy wires, they usually are covered with an insulator. The lower end, where the cable enters the ground, is often also encased in a sheath of yellow plastic reflector to make it more visible.

Safety Tips

Now let’s talk about some safety hazards that distribution poles can cause:

  • Electricity never shuts off, so if a wire breaks or falls down, the electricity is still looking for a path to ground. A human body is a very good path to ground, so avoid all fallen wires. Do not touch them under any circumstances. Call 911 or your phone company immediately if you see fallen wires. Also do not touch anyone or anything the line may be touching. Objects can become energized by just contacting a downed power line. That includes phone and cable wires. Remember that electric wires aren’t insulated like power cords for home appliances. What may appear to be some sort of insulation is actually weather-proofing material.
  • Always be aware of the presence of overhead lines. Keep ladders, TV antennas, gardening equipment, satellite dishes, and any other equipment away from them. Maintain a distance of at least 10 feet at all times.
  • If your vehicle comes in contact with a utility pole or wire, do not step out of the car. Call 911 and alert others to stay away from your vehicle. You are protected when you are inside the vehicle, but the outside of your vehicle could have electricity passing through it. If you must exit the vehicle because of fire or some other imminent danger, remove all loose items of clothing and jump clear of the vehicle. Avoid touching the car and the ground at the same time. Land with both feet together, and cautiously step away from the car keeping both feet as close together as possible.

* Source: American Electric Power

 

a row of trucks from Regional Mutual Assistance Groups heading down a road to assist with hurricane repairs
Regional Mutual Assistance Groups: How Utilities Unite in Times of Crisis

The utility industry is one of the worst-hit sectors when natural disasters strike the nation. Outages that occur as a result of wildfires, hurricanes, storms, etc. may last for hours or even days before power can be restored,. This leaves local communities stranded without electricity. Disaster management is an incredibly complex task. However, utility companies are facing this challenge head on. Year after year, they not only hone their own strategies but also keep open lines of communication with other utility companies via a voluntary partnership called Regional Mutual Assistance Groups (RMAG).

Being a member of an RMAG means no utility company has to battle crises alone. Back-up resources like skilled workers, trucks, equipment, data, and expertise are always available from other member companies if the need arises.

The power system is an interconnected network. Utilities working in unison during an emergency event means they can do restoration work more efficiently than ever before.

“For more than a century, utilities have helped one another in their time of need,” says Michael Hyland, from APPA (the association that serves as a link between public power utilities and the federal government), in an interview with T&D World. “The use of mutual aid is the lifeblood of utilities heading into and after storms. In the past, however, the mutual assistance programs were not standardized.”

The mutual response efforts during Hurricanes Katrina (2005), Irene (2011), and Sandy (2012) prove that is no longer the case. Utilities now send out crews and support teams to other companies even hundreds of miles away. Their teams help repair power lines, rebuild damaged infrastructure, and offer logistical assistance when necessary.

Benefits

There are other benefits that come out of such partnerships, too.

Cost effectiveness: Utility companies don’t have to budget for additional staff to be on hand in preparation for emergency events as they once had to.

Knowledge sharing: Regional Mutual Assistance Groups give utility companies a common forum to share information and discuss industry-related topics and emerging trends. This elevates the power industry as a whole. Handling policy matters related to state and local governments is another key advantage. The RMAG platform helps formulate a coordinated voice.

But how exactly do RMAG agreements play out? There are three segments to these partnerships.

Pre-Event

Some natural and human-influenced events are unpredictable by their very nature and, therefore, difficult to predict. With others however, like hurricanes, storms, and earthquakes, there is a lead time. Predictions of these possible events come in earlier than the event itself. (Via the National Weather Service, US Forest Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Department of Homeland Security, etc.)

Power companies use this knowledge and time to ramp up preparedness efforts. They coordinate with members of their RMAG and take stock of the ground situation. These groups allocate duties put task forces in charge of restoration plans that take every member’s projected needs into consideration. So, once the situation unfolds, the RMAG has as clear an idea as possible about how to tackle it.

During the Event

When the event strikes, Regional Mutual Assistance Group members have a long task list. It start with repairing systems on a priority basis. The idea is to restore power where the maximum number of customers have been affected. Emergency services like hospitals, public safety, national safety, and critical social foundations are also on top of the list as they are fighting hand-in-hand to protect the community they are serving. RMAGs share a great deal of information during the unfolding of the crisis. Together workers assess outages, prioritize them, and manage the logistics of restoration – such as disbursement of support teams.

After the Event

This is a time to take stock. A time to evaluate performances, learn lessons, and develop initiatives that will help RMAGs streamline the restoration process.

Service to the community is always the end-goal. Even as linemen are laboring to restore power as quickly as possible, the RMAG network is working relentlessly to perform with even more efficiency in the future.

We at Custom Truck One Source are honored to support this mighty effort with fleet rentals of utility and telecom equipment that are always on the ground and ready to go in times of emergencies. Our own network is spread throughout the United States, so no matter where you need us, we’ll be there.

* Source: National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners

 

California wildfires create a red sky with a utility tower showing the need for reinforced cabling
Reinforced FR Cabling: A Critical Defense for Utility Companies Against Forest Fires

Since the 1970s, incidents of wildfires have been on a sharp rise in the western U.S., with longer wildfire durations and longer wildfire seasons. Nobody can forget the news out of California last year. Utility companies had to preemptively shut off the power supply for days to arrest the advance of the mass fires.

Weather is the main catalyst during events of uncontrolled forest fires. Utility companies, though, sometimes suffer damages to their transmission and distribution lines. This is particularly true in wilderness areas where high winds can blow falling trees and branches into power lines. Snapping wooden distribution poles may spark flames that can quickly catch and spread over dry grassland.

Underground Distribution Lines

During wildfire season, utility companies have historically had to reckon with public opinion on this matter. People call for buried lines instead of overhead installations for the safety they afford from natural disasters. However, utility companies moving their lines underground is no easy task.  

 

For example, according to a news report, new underground distribution lines across most of PG&E’s territory cost about $1.16 million per mile – more than twice the price of a new overhead line. The utility company operates more than 134,000 miles of overhead power lines in Northern and Central California, and it would cost well over $100 billion to underground PG&E’s entire territory. Utility companies’ customers would have to help pay the large bill for such an endeavor. Add to this the environmental ramifications of large-scale digging. 

 

For these very reasons, utility companies are constantly looking at new technology. They aim to both improve safety and upgrade the electric supply system as a whole. Critical among them is reinforced cabling, which has come a long way in the past few years, to mitigate fire threats during wildfire seasons.

Reinforced Flame Retardant Cabling

Flame retardant cables, standard IEC 60332-3, do not continue operation in the event of a fire. Rather, they restrain combustion, slow its spread, and don’t melt or drip when exposed to high heat. They are, therefore, an efficient defense against fire. They are applicable in all circuits and visibly differentiated by a grey or black outer sheath. However, they have a limited scope when compared to fire resistant reinforced cabling technology. 

Reinforced Fire Resistant Cabling

Fire resistant (FR) cables, used in critical electrical circuits, have an edge over the fire retardant ones. These cables continue to function in the presence of fire for a stipulated period of time under certain conditions. The insulation layer of FR cables, standard IEC 60331,  is able to withstand high degrees of heat. This ability maintains the electrical circuit without shorting. It can also withstand both mechanical impacts and water sprinkler/water jets used to fight fire. Many of these red-sheathed cables have the additional attribute of being fire resistant as well. Typically, they don’t need additional ducting or external protection, which means they take up less space, are lighter than conventional solutions, and are therefore easier to install and maintain.

 

Bear Valley Electric Service (BVES) in Bear Lake, CA, has become the first investor-owned utility company in the country to implement use of fire resistant cabling to help mitigate the threat of spreading forest fires without interrupting service.

 

“As regulators make stronger demands on utilities to protect California from wildfires, we have a responsibility and an obligation to introduce innovative products such as FR cable that reduce fire risk,” said James Cameron, vice president, Utility and Broadband, WESCO Distribution, Inc. in an interview with T&D World. “We supply BVES with these innovative materials so that they can ensure system reliability and safety.”

Other Precautions

States in fire-prone regions are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to prepare for 2020’s forest fire season. Utilities are a key part of this drive. In addition to reinforced cabling, tree trimming projects are underway, as are operational improvements and upgrades of safety equipment, like metal poles, covered conductor wires, and meteorological monitoring systems. If forced to shut off power, it would only be due to extreme, unavoidable circumstances.

 

“Risk of wildfire is our biggest threat in Southern California and is especially dangerous here in the Bear Valley mountains, where we’re surrounded by nature, brush, and wildlife,” says Eric Cardella, engineering and planning supervisor at BVES. “It’s important to us that we take the measures necessary to protect lives and our land, especially as drought and dryness are expected to continue as a norm across California for years to come.” 

 

electricity pylons with lines crossing in the sky
How Electricity Is Delivered to Customers

We often take electricity for granted. Flip a switch and the light comes on. The music system starts playing. The computer boots up. Electricity is a convenience we can no longer do without.

Have you ever wondered, though, how it reaches our homes and workplaces? In simple terms, we are providing you some information on how we get our electricity. It just takes a few important steps — also known as the electrical grid.

Generation:

Power is generated by electricity companies, the same ones that send you your monthly bill. While earlier, most generation facilities were coal-fired, now there are various options, such as natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and solar.

Any of these energy sources can be used to move turbine blades on an electric generator. This generator converts the mechanical energy (the sum of kinetic and potential energy in an object used to do work) to electrical energy. The heat generated produces steam which sets the turbine blades into motion, creating the electricity we eventually use.

Transmission:

From the generation plant, electricity moves on to distribution substations through high-voltage transmission lines, also known as the transmission grid. You have likely noticed the lines crisscrossing overhead, and in fact, the use of overhead lines is more prevalent among utilities than underground lines. Utilities prefer overhead lines as they are cheaper to set up and more easily accessible than underground lines. The only problem is that weather conditions can affect them, leading to potential power outages.

Distribution:

Generation plants provide power to this grid in ranges from 480 volts to 22 kilovolts. Of course, this depends on the capacity of the generation plants. As electricity is released from the generation unit, voltage is stepped up by the use of a transformer.

This is done so as much power is retained as possible, without any substantial losses. Once the electricity reaches load areas, transformers kick into action again at distribution substations to step down the voltage passing through. The voltage is lowered so the electricity can pass through smaller transmission lines.

Transformers lower the voltage again so the electricity becomes safe to use at home. It then connects to our home. It is circulated through the meter, which simultaneously measures how much power you use, and determines what shows up on your bill at the end of the month. The electricity, via the meter, goes through the wires in your house to switches and outlets, now ready for you to use.

It may seem simple, but getting power to your homes is actually a complicated process. Just ask any electrical engineer.

Interesting Facts:

  • British scientist Michael Faraday  discovered the principles of electricity generation during the mid-1800s, and the method he devised in still in use today.
  • The first street to be lit by electric light bulbs in the world was Mosley Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1879.
  • Thomas Edison built the first power plant, and in 1882 his Pearl Street Power Station in New York sent power to 85 buildings.
  • The biggest light bulb in the world is located in Edison, New Jersey. It’s 14 feet tall, weighs eight tons, and sits on top of the Thomas Edison Memorial Tower.
  • The first four common domestic items powered by electricity were the sewing machine, fan, kettle and toaster.
  • A typical microwave oven consumes more electricity powering its digital clock than it does heating food
  • Appliances also use electricity when switched off. The average desktop computer idles at 80 watts, while the average laptop idles at 20 watts.
  • In Albertville, France (host city of the 1992 Winter Olympics), they make electricity from cheese! Since whey isn’t needed to make Beaufort cheese, bacteria is added to the whey, turning it into biogas. This gas is then fed through an engine which heats water to generate electricity.
  • Ever wondered why birds that sit on power lines don’t get electrocuted? If a bird sits on only one power line it’s safe. If the bird touches any part of its body to another line, it creates a circuit, causing electrocution.
  • Iceland is the country that uses the most electricity annually. Their consumption is about 23% more than the U.S.

Source: GloBird Energy
Source: Oliver HVAC